The trailblazing advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka is no longer with us
At a significant juncture where an inclusive electoral process has been introduced with the interventions of the newly established Election Commission, Election Observing Organizations and various organizations and institutions advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, the demise of Uva Provincial Councilor Mr. Senarath Attanayake is indeed an incalculable loss in view of CMEV.
At the time of his sudden decease at the age of fifty-one years, he had accomplished many achievements in different aspects, among which the greatest is him being the first wheelchair user in Sri Lanka to become a qualified lawyer.
Moreover, he has represented Uva provincial council in different capacities including ministerial roles for over two decades. He was a member of the Uva provincial council till the end of his days and never abused his power for narrow political gains. Out of the three people who are actively involved in politics while being wheelchair users in the whole world, he held the record of having the longest political career in representing the provincial council membership.
At a time and age where the political rights of the persons with disabilities was cast aside, the intervention made by Mr. Attanayake with that regard, was not only just revolutionary but it was a timely initiative as well.
Among the progressive changes made recently with regard to the facilitation of voting for the persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka, the circular issued by the Election Commissioner on the first week of May in the year 2015 leading up to the general election held in the month of August, was initiated as a result of a request forwarded by Mr. Attanayake to the election commissioner. The said circular held the assistant/deputy election commissioners and other relevant officials accountable for facilitating the persons with disabilities in casting their votes at the election.
Subsequently, it was him who became the great shadow that stood behind the team of voluntary advocates, youth activists and all the civil society organizations who spearheaded the initiative known as Enabled Elections which was facilitated by CMEV and functioned as a coalition of various advocacy organizations like Wheels in Motion which was co-founded by Mr. Senarath himself and Enable Lanka foundation which was another youth-led organization advocating for mainstreaming disability inclusion in Sri Lanka under his mentorship. It was Mr. Senarath Attanayake who took the lead in persuading CMEV to take up the facilitating role for this initiative.
It was not only about the political and voting rights of the persons with disabilities that Mr. Senarath worked extensively. But also he focused on various other needs of the persons with disabilities where he strived to make Wellawaya a disabled-friendly city in alignment with a global initiative of building such inclusive spaces. At present, the Wellawaya city attests to his effort and stands out as an accessible and disabled-friendly city in Sri Lanka. He invested a greater portion of his consolidated funds towards the betterment of persons with disabilities while setting an example for the other members of the provincial council and local government levels.
He maintained a consistent rapport with the CMEV as well as the Election Commission and actively intervened in highlighting the issues of the persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka at the high-level international forums such as the UN general assembly every year.
In appreciation of his tremendous service, The Viscardi Center presented him Henry Viscardi Achievement Award in the year 2016, the statement on which is extracted below.
“Provincial Councilor of Uva Province, Mr. Senarath Attanayake (Attorney-at-Law), for receiving this year’s Henry Viscardi Achievement Award. (The Viscardi Center) These international Awards, first bestowed in 2013, recognize exemplary leaders within the disability community and their extraordinary societal contributions.” More information here.
As an organization proactively engaging in the area of advocating for the political and voting rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka, Centre for Monitoring Election Violence observes the demise of Mr. Attanayake as an immeasurable loss. CMEV always recalls the well-informed, courageous and exemplary service of Mr. Senarath Attanayake with great admiration. A short video documentary produced by CMEV to be aired in a recently held TV interview based on the invaluable service he has rendered to the persons with disabilities in this country, can be viewed here.